The days of NBA stars refraining from making any statement that is political are officially over. In recent years, we have witnessed players speaking out on societal ills with more force than previous generations have dared.
Kevin Durant has publicly stated that he will not attend a team trip to the White House to meet President Donald Trump if the Golden State Warriors receive an invite.
While he would not directly speak for his teammates, he implied that they agree with his stance on the matter and would also choose not to attend.
Interestingly, Trump did not take to Twitter to congratulate the Warriors on their NBA title the same way he did with the New England Patriots after they won their Super Bowl. To be fair, he didn't tweet out any congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins after their Stanley Cup win this season (although he did for their championship back in 2016), and perhaps his mention of the Patriots was more due to his friendships with Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady.
A handful of Patriots players chose not to participate in their White House trip back in April, but there was never any doubts that Trump would invite the team.
No formal invitation to the NBA champs as of this writing, and from the White House’s perspective, it might be a better alternative than letting them reject a request altogether.
Why Trump is different than typical politicians
It has become a tradition in recent decades for championship squads in major North American professional sports leagues to visit the White House. Occasionally individual players have skipped the meeting due to either prior commitments or political grievances with the incumbent administration, but those have been few and far between.
Trump is an unprecedented case, though. Both his campaign and ensuing presidency have ignited the passions of those who feel he does not empathize with or speak for them.
Commissioner Adam Silver has articulated that he hopes the NBA champion will continue to visit the White House regardless of who holds the office of the presidency, but that it is ultimately the choice of the organization and individual players.
Just going off of recent history, the Warriors not meeting with the president for any reasons beyond scheduling conflicts would be a huge deal. All eight championship squads during the Barack Obama administration visited him at the White House, and there was never a team that refused to meet with George W. Bush based on politics.
Judging from sentiments around the league involving Trump, it appears as though it is very likely that future champions will follow the Warriors’ lead and not visit Trump.
Will this affect a long-standing tradition during and after Trump?
It is fascinating to ponder whether this will set a precedent of organizations refusing to visit the White House based on partisan leanings.
There are a few indicators that quell those concerns, though. Regardless of political affiliation, the campaign of Trump evoked racial animosity in a way no other politician in recent history had.
This issue is not a liberal or conservative thing. NBA teams were enthusiastic to visit both Obama and Bush, who represented opposite ends of the political spectrum. Had recent Republican nominees John McCain or Mitt Romney become president, players would have been overjoyed to visit them as well.
Players in the past have met both Republican and Democratic presidents. One could make the argument that players today are more partisan than players of the past, and will hence base their choice of visiting the White House on the political affiliation of the president, but that is too hasty of a conclusion to come to based on just one case.
The Warriors as a team will make the best decision for themselves in this situation. If they don’t feel comfortable visiting Trump, then they certainly don’t have to.
Conversely, if other champions in either the NBA or other sports leagues want to visit Trump, that is fine as well. It is a choice for the athletes and team officials alone, but the Warriors are taking a stance that has not been very common up to this point.